Both AIR Worldwide and Risk Management Solutions have issued bulletins commenting on Hurricane Felix. Its sudden formation and rapid strengthening into a category 5 storm are virtually unprecedented.
“Since 1900, only four years have recorded more than a single Category 5 hurricane. Only one year—2005—has seen more than two,” noted Dr. Milan Simic, Managing Director of AIR’s London office. “That year, four Category 5 storms formed in the North Atlantic: Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.”
RMS called this hurricane season “unprecedented,” as the “first two hurricanes both reached maximum intensity.” Dr Claire Souch, RMS senior director of model management, indicated that this is “only the fourth year since 1950 that we’ve had more than one Category five storm and it is unprecedented for the first two hurricanes of the season to reach this level of intensity.”
RMS explained that the “similar paths taken by the two hurricanes is a result of a persistent high pressure weather system which is usually located further northeast in the Atlantic around Bermuda. The high is currently positioned over Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, directing the tracks to the western Caribbean where Atlantic sea surface temperatures are hottest. The warmth of this water intensifies any storms that pass over the area.”
Robert Muir Wood, chief research officer at RMS, commented: “The location of the high pressure system is currently protecting the US, as storm tracks are being kept further south. However, we are not yet halfway through the hurricane season and stable weather tends to break down during September, so there is no guarantee that the protection will remain in place.”
AIR’s Dr. Simic observed that if Felix keeps on its present course, as indicated in the NHC forecast, it “will take a track similar to that of Hurricane Fifi, which brought catastrophic flooding and mudslides to Honduras in 1974. Though only a strong Category 2 storm as it brushed the coast just offshore, Fifi was blamed for as many as 8,000 deaths. The bad news is that Hurricane Felix will be stronger than Fifi and is forecast to make actual landfall. The good news, if there is any for Honduras, is that Felix is a small system and is moving at near twice the forward speed of Fifi, so there will be less time for precipitation to accumulate.”
Dr. Muir Wood also explained that while “two maximum-strength hurricanes could be cited as evidence of climate change, both the tracks of these storms have been guided over a region known to be a great hurricane intensifier. Belize, which was hit by category 4 hurricanes Keith and Iris in 2000 and 2001, is in the firing line of these intense storms.”